The Death of Internet Privacy
Ken: Nerds on Call here to explain it all to us this morning. Good morning, sir, how are you?
Ryan: Good morning.
Ken: Good to see you, okay.
Ryan: So first things first, this is not a huge deal.
Ryan: It sounds like it’s super scary, it gets a lot of good, big headlines. But first, these rules were enacted in October of 2016 and they never went into effect. So all that’s been happening all along is still happening, so it’s not like anything big has changed, we don’t have to freak out.
Here’s the other thing, nobody’s gonna be able to say, “Here’s where Ken Rudolph went on the internet yesterday, and look at it.” You can’t do that. So we still have certain protections. What this does is it peels back a layer of regulation for what Republicans are calling essentially an agency that had no authority to police, right. So the FTC is what protects us on our privacy. So when Vizio got caught searching and seeing what we were watching and recording that…
Ken: Yes, I remember that you talked about that, yeah.
Ryan: Yeah. So the FTC is the one who enforced that, sued them, cost them 2 million dollars or something, and that’s really who should be enforcing this sort of things. The FCC is really all about just monitoring communications and things like that, so it’s not there to protect us. But Wheeler who is the old FTC chair, he decided, well, the FTC’s not doing enough and what’s wrong with more protection? So let’s get more protections, and so he enacted all these rules, and so, of course, Republicans are repealing it.
So here’s what it really does, it allows your ISPs to report or to sell your data of where you’ve been, where you’ve done, what you’ve looked at, your demographic data, things like that. But they can’t necessarily say, “This is where Ken went,” and sell that kind of information to an individual user. Does that kind of make sense?
Ken: Absolutely, yeah.
Cody: So it would be like, “This many users from this area were looking these sites?” Is that how it works?
Ryan: Exactly. One of the biggest problems is with your cell phone, right. Your cell phone is your most personal device ever. It has everything on it and it tracks where you are and what you’re doing. And so as an advertiser, let’s you’re Walmart and you say, “I wanna who’s coming into my store, what their age is, and then I wanna know what they searched for,” so I can make my store just a little better for that individual that comes in there. That kind of makes sense.
Here’s one of the other big problems with restricting the use of this data. Google and Facebook already knows everything you’re doing, they already do. Ninety percent of every ad dollar spend on the web, it goes to Google and Facebook.
Ryan: And so if you’re logged into Facebook or you’re logged into Gmail, they’re already tracking all of your user data and stuff. But here’s the big kicker, you have the chance to opt out of that. You can say, “I’m not gonna use Facebook, I’m not gonna use Google, I’m not gonna use Gmail,” and therefore you protect yourself.
With the ISPs, you can’t opt out of it and that’s a really big problem.
So in 2011, Verizon and a couple other companies got in big trouble for they called…well, actually, 2014, it’s called a super cookie. And they put it on your web browser and it tracked everything you did and reported it back, and there was no way to delete it or opt out of it.
So as Americans, one of the things we like to do is protect our privacy. And we wanna be able to say, “Hey, that’s okay, you can track me Facebook because I like your product.” But once your ISP does it without your permission, that kind of angers people. I wanna say a really bad word but that really makes some people very angry.
And so if you wanna do something about it, here’s some really cool stuff you can do. So Facebook, oddly enough, came out with a new service called Town Hall and it’s just in your settings. If you just go down to settings, click ‘Town Hall,’ you can contact every single member of your Congress, or State Senate, assembly, anything. It’s all right there, you can literally click it, email them, call them, text them, get on their Facebook page. And if you’re angry about this, do something about it. Just say, “Hey, this isn’t cool, I’m not happy about…I want FCC to protect me just like the FTC does.”
Cody: So how?
Ryan: Does that make sense?
Ken: That makes great sense.
Cody: I think another one of the things angry about this is they grew in super cookie from now on. That used to be an exciting thing, now let’s hear.
Ryan: Well, Marianne was asking about VPNs. I don’t know how much time we have. But Marianne was asking about VPNs and will this protect me and can I mask my usage of the internet using a VPN. And you certainly can but here’s the thing, VPNs are seeing all your traffic and they’re less likely to be watched over by the FTC. And so when you send your traffic to this VPN service or freebie VPN service, you could be just handing your data over to a bad guy or criminal, or anyone else that wants to buy the data from them. Your ISP is at least regulated to some extent. We know that there’s enough people watching them, that they’re not gonna do something super terrible.
Ken: Well, you think.
Ryan: But it’s creepy. Here’s another example, this is one of the things that in 2011 happened. This was super terrible. So let’s say you went to Google and you typed in, you know, oh, I wanna know who is running for office this year because I wanna know who my local representatives are. Well, Verizon was sending that search query directly to another company. And that company then would look at that search query and then rather than sending you to Google, would send you to the page they want you to go to.
Cody: Yes, exactly.
Ryan: So this could, if used for evil, it could influence elections, consumer stuff. So let’s say Netflix pays Verizon to suppress all their competitors, like Hulu, let’s say. I want you to suppress all searches on Hulu and paid them to do it, they could, technically. I mean, FCC, the FTC would have to come in and say something but it’s possible with these kinds of protections repealed, so we have to keep those things in mind.
Ken: Awesome. Ryan, always good, always great information.
Cody: We feel like we learned something.
Ryan: Thank you, thank you.
Ken: You sparked a whole another conversation we could’ve had for another hour, 7:49 here on…
Last year the FCC passed a series of rules for how Internet Service Providers deal with their customers’ data, limiting their ability to track and sell information about customer’s online activity. On Tuesday March 28, 2017, the House passed S.J. Resolution 34, nullifying the FCC’s privacy rules. So let’s talk about what this means to your online experience.
What was this resolution all about?
On Tuesday March 28 2017, the house passed a resolution that basically overturned last year’s FCC ruling. The FCC ruling was aimed at limiting your ISPs ability to collect and sell your online activity.
What’s the big deal? Don’t Facebook and Google already track what I do and sell it to marketers?
Yes and no. Facebook and Google DO track your activity on their sites, they use it to let marketers show you “targeted” ads. But the big difference here is that you can choose to not to use those sites if it bothers you. You can’t stop your ISP from tracking you – it has to know where you’re going to deliver you websites (unless you use a VPN server to mask your final destination)
Is this really going to change the experience for users?
It certainly could. ISPs have done some pretty creepy things to track users before, and now they can again. Here are 3 examples of shady behavior from ISPs:
1. Hijacking searches
Back in 2011, Charter, Frontier and other ISPs contracted with company called Paxfire. If you entered a search term in your URL bar or browser search box, your ISP sent your inquiry to Paxfire. If your search matched a list of companies that paid Paxfire for traffic, your ISP would send you to that site INSTEAD of providing the full search results.
Scary: an Internet where you can’t see all the available options – just those that pay for traffic
2. Examine EVERY site you go to online to insert related ads
One of the best parts about cruising the net are the unexpected rabbit holes. You’re cruising the net looking up recipes for dinner, you come across an article about the health benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar. You’re curious, so you click though a couple links talking about benefits – lose weight, more energy, fight acne. All done you move on. UNTIL you discover that everywhere you go you’re getting ads targeted to weight loss, fatigue and breakouts.
Scary: think of some of the less savory places you’ve stumbled across online. You don’t want those sites feeding advertisements that your spouse, kids or co-workers will see every time you pull up a browser window.
3. Using undetectable, undeletable tracking cookies in ALL your HTTP traffic
In 2014, Verizon Wireless inserted “super cookies” into ALL it’s mobile customer’s traffic. For 2 years, Verizon didn’t disclose to customers or give option to opt out. it doesn’t matter if you browse incognito or in Private Browsing Mode. It ignores tracker-blocking apps or protocols and let’s anyone – not just advertisers – track you as you browse. Even if you clear your cookies, advertisers can use tracking header to “resurrect them”
Scary: your browser history could be used against you – without context. Lets say you were curious about Ashley Madison after the site rose to notoriety. You cruise over using an incognito browser but your ISP logs your traffic anyway. You check it out but don’t do set up an account, just cruise the site to see what it’s about. Fast forward to your divorce and your ex-wife subpoenaing your ISP to show you obviously tried to cheat on her.
ISPs will bulldoze your privacy online for their profit margin. Targeted ads could make for a more relevant online experience, but wouldn’t you prefer to be able to choose to trade your own privacy?
Wondering what you can do?
Look into VPNs if you want to hide your web traffic. Support the Electronic Frontier Foundation in their fight to protect consumer privacy.
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